Thursday, August 31, 2017

Family Portrait Update

- By Justin Coro Kaufman

My last post here I’d put up a thumbnail and some images of a large painting of my kids/animals (same thing!) I was intending to start. Started it, and figured I’d give an update on its progress, as well as maybe provide a bit of background on it.
Been wanting to paint a group portrait of our babies for a few years now. When I’d first started kicking the idea around, we had 1 boy, 2 beagles, a tortoise, and two hermit crabs. I’d primed a 6x4 foot panel and kind of designated for the purpose of this portrait back then. That was back in 2014. 

Then Life happens. We moved, had another kid, crabs died (RIP Barbara and Snoop crabby crab), our male Beagle Ponzu passed away last November (rip my dearest baby boy), who we then replaced with two mastiffs and a basset hound…We adopted an african spurred tortoise…then had another baby in July….the older I get the more i see how much life is in constant flux, always changing, breathing in the new while expelling the old. Sometimes its great, sometimes it's not. As an artist who’s personal work tends skew toward the autobiographical, I try to be aware and pinpoint those personal moments that I’m compelled to try to record.

This past summer was probably the best I’ve ever had. Washington summers are absolutely magical on their own…the days are loong. the sun rises at like 4 am and night falls somewhere around 10pm. the forest thrives with new life. Its incredibly inspiring to me, not just as an artist but as a human being. Living out here the past 3 years I love it more and more every day.

But in addition to the weather being nice, we’ve just been in a good place as a family. I was able to move my entire art-making operation out to our barn, so for the first time in my professional career I actually have a designated place to make art. The boys are at very fun ages now (5 and 2), and will frequently make their way out here to hang with their dad. They're now both kind of interested in what I do, and its great being able to share my world with them a little bit more. I have these big sweet furry companions who lay out here with me most of the day. Snuggling with a couple of 150+ pound pups is a great way to take a break and recharge.  Working on a very cool project through Massive Black with some truly great people that’s been perhaps one of the best/most interesting gigs I’ve ever been able to contribute to. Our baby girl arrived in July, and she’s brought such an amazing new energy to our household. The further we got into this past summer, the more apparent it became to me that this was a chapter of our lives that I wanted to commemorate in paint.

I had a fairly clear idea of how I wanted to go about it, but given the nature of my subjects it required a decent amount of planning. I knew I wanted to paint a night scene with the large maple tree behind my studio serving as the backdrop. I wanted to front light the whole thing to appear almost as if it’s being lit with a flashlight or something. Id painted the same tree under similar circumstances a couple of years ago, and wanted to expand on it some. There’s a kind of immediacy and intimacy that this type of lighting creates that while it’s not the most ideal scenario for a classical portrait, it just felt like the right way to go with this piece.

First step was to do a few quick thumbnails and figure out rough framing and placements. Kept them pretty loose so as not to get caught up in details that would likely be informed by the reference I had yet to shoot. I thumbnail literally everything I do these days. Even if its just a scribble, having that initial game plan is essential, especially if you're planning a complex picture with lots of elements. 

Once I had a thumbnail I liked, I set up out back to shoot the environment. I set my camera  on a tripod and framed up my shot. The scene was lit with an LED work lamp that throws a nice bright neutral colored light so I could capture as much info as possibleI. Took fairly long exposure shots so I could get the detail I was looking for in the background elements. The final image is stitched together from about 15 different shots so I could capture as wide of a field of view as possible. I also shot two versions, one with an empty foreground, and one where I laid placeholder objects of approximate size in the scene as reference for where I wanted my subjects to be.

While shooting outside, i recorded the height of the camera, as well as the distance between the camera, light, and the placeholder elements. then i moved indoors and recreated the same scenario in my studio, marking with tape on the floor the camera and light positions, and their relative distance from the placeholder objects… then one by one i brought my sitters out, placed them roughly where i wanted them, and shot them individually. After picking out my favorite pics I composited them together into my final reference image. Overall it worked out pretty well and if there's anything that ends up looking weird I can always try to cover it with grass or a cast shadow :)

I used a 4x4 inch grid to help transfer the image, which I drew directly onto the panel lightly with a 4h pencil. For larger pieces like this ill tend to use a grid mostly so I can make sure the elements are precisely were I want them. Its also a nice safety net I can measure against if I run into any drawing difficulties.  I like to end up with a fairly precise contour line underdrawing so when I come in to paint there’s a solid foundation upon which to build. Here are a few progress pics of the dogs and our yellowfoot tortoise.

Being right handed I naturally tend to work left to right, and working wet in wet I will kind of break the painting up into different sections that will best facilitate this approach. As with the drawing, I try to be as precise as I can with this first pass, paying special attention to proportions, values, and placement, as well as paint surface to make sure I’m laying a foundation upon which I can easily add more layers of paint on top as I come back in and refine forms and volumes. This stage is the heaviest lift, as once this pass is done it’s mostly tweaking stuff.

I’m now about a month in and a little past halfway done with the first pass. At another time in my life, I could have probably done the whole thing in a couple of weeks,  but between work, kids, and life,  these fine art efforts tend to move a bit more slowly. But that’s all right. I’m in no rush with this, though ill be honest I’m looking forward to getting it all blocked in so i can start reworking the background and fixing the many small drawing deviations that occur during the block in process….THE SATISFYING STUFF!!!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

With a Little Help from my Friends

- by Charles Vess

Something that I find endlessly fascinating is how the art gods that you once worshiped when you were a much younger artist fall away as direct influences and become replaced by others. This is not to say that (in my case) Jack Kirby, Maxfield Parrish, Russ Manning or even Frank Frazetta are any less an icon in today’s world, its just that as you as a person mature and begin to experience the world your passions change. And that’s really okay. Those particular image makers, whoever they may be for you, even though they were formative in making you the artist that you are at this moment in time, right now in fact, they just don’t fill your creative sails anymore. Because, sometimes you really do need that extra boost of creative inspiration in order for you to even think about sitting your butt down at your drawing board.


Its not that I would ever want to ignore the broad, level road that these particular artists left in my psyche its that I’d like to cut my own path through the cluttered landscape of popular culture.

But bless them, some of those seminal (to me, at least) artists still do get me going. 30 to 40 years after I’ve ‘met’ them I still find myself learning new lessons from what has fallen off their busy finger tips.

Of course I’ve met many others along the way, artists who still remain close aesthetic friends in my time of need.

Now, just because I was producing comic book narratives for many years back in the 1990s certainly doesn’t mean I only looked to comic book or strip artists for inspiration. Or later, when I slipped into fantasy book illustration that I only studied the cover art on SF/F books and magazines. I strongly believe that that can only lead to your stagnation as an artist and ultimately to complete boredom. If there is one thing that we can thank the ease of an internet search for is that there’s a great big world of art, past and present, lurking in all sorts of interesting corners for anyone to easily discover and become inspired by.

Which brings me to an important signpost on the long and winding road that is our artistic life, a posting that is often overlooked as we fly past it in our reckless pursuit of a burgeoning career. Never limit your search for inspiration to any one particular field. That narrow, twisty side road might lead you to a dusty bookshop that gifts you with the work of an unknown artist that could just change your life forever. That semi-mythic bookshop might even focus on a field that you’ve never considered of interest before. Don’t turn away. Take you time to browse through its offerings. Buried inside a book on gardening might be elegant line drawings by W. H. Robinson or one of his brothers.

In the pages of a children’s picture book could be an explosion of b/w illustrations by an unknown-till-then German illustrator, Hermann Vogel that will take your breath away.

Or a contemporary take on Arthur Rackham’s elegant line by Lizbeth Zwerger could offer you an escape from an aesthetic you no longer wish to participate in.

A graphic novel by Lorenzo Mattotti could entrance you with its particular magic stylization.

There, anyway are some of my particular signposts that have done their best to lure AND to teach me a lesson or two (well, maybe three or four).

Rhongast the Wizard: This pen & ink was done in 1969 when I was a senior in High School and trying desperately to grasp a hold of any aesthetic information that Aubrey Beardsly or Alex Raymond had to offer me.

Granny Goodapple comes Knocking on Your Door: In 1974 I had just graduated from college with a BFA and was able once more to draw as I pleased.

The Earth Witch (left): I had just moved to NYC in 1976 to share a two bedroom apartment with, Michael Kaluta. This was the first painting that I completed after unpacking my all my stuff. It wasn’t a commission because absolutely no one was hiring me to paint anything back then. The painting was done just for the love of it.

Spider-Man (right): Spirits of the Earth: In the mid 1990s I wrote, drew and painted this 70 page graphic narrative for Marvel sending the web slinger to the highlands of Scotland so that I wouldn’t have to paint NYC buildings and windows the whole damn time.

In the Deep Woods” One of 175 paintings that were completed in throughout 2005 and 2006 for the publication of my collaboration with writer Neil Gaiman, ‘Stardust, Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie’.

Blueberry Girl: an interior page from 2009 for yet another collaboration with Neil Gaiman, this time for a children’s picture book.

And, I’m always looking forward to meeting some new faces that may someday join my pantheon of art gods and goddesses.

Come on in, the waters fine.

Charles Vess
Abingdon, VA

Duet, A Door Into Summer: a private commission done in 2012.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What Lies Beneath

-By Justin & Annie Stegg Gerard

This weekend Annie will be doing an oil painting demo on how she adds color glazes over an underpainting. So for today's post I thought I would show a few peaks at her process as well as some of her thoughts on colorizing an underpainting.


So why bother with an underpainting?  Painting an underpainting takes a lot longer than getting right into the full painting and so it can feel like an overly laborious and redundant step.  But while it does tend to take longer, it offers the advantage of allowing you to concentrate on value and color independently of one another, so you can devote their full attention to each in turn.

Underpaintings also allow the artist to take advantage of one of the curious properties of oil painting: That each layer glazed onto the surface adds greater depth and translucency to the surface of the image.  This has the affect of making things like skin, look like, well, skin. Making this a wonderful;y useful technique for portraiture.


It can be intimidating to add color once you've finished an underpainting. You have to take a pristine monochrome that could almost be a framed finished painting on its own, and now you have to deface it with bold strokes of color.  It can initially be very intimidating.

Thankfully in oil you can simply start splashing color on, and if it looks wrong, you can wipe it out, without affecting your underpainting. This means that you can be very bold with initial choices.


For her underpaintings, Annie uses Raw Umber and Titanium White, with very little medium. (It's important to use very little medium in the underpainting, otherwise the image may not be fat over lean and the later layers may not be stable).  Before moving on to color Annie will allow the painting surface to become completely touch dry.


For those of you who will be attending DragonCon in Atlanta this Labor Day weekend, Annie's demonstration is Saturday, September 2. It will be at 1PM in Grand Hall D of the Hyatt.

Here is a preview of the painting she will be working on:

Monday, August 28, 2017

Fortunate Few

-By Jesper Ejsing

My newest Magic card "Fortunate Few" is out. This was a very fun illustration. The description of the card was: A huge destructive spell has crushed the landscape, leaving a big crater. In the middle, untouched are a Soldier, a goblin a Zombie and a goat.

I knew I needed to treat the four figures as a solid mass or at least think them well together, since they would not be huge in the card frame. I tried 3 different sketches in order to try to bunch them together with a varied and interesting silhouette. 2 versions had a very low angle. That solution would let me have a very clear silhouette of a dark bunch of figures against a smoky light background. But the crater and the destruction would be giving less space and attention. The top down birds eye, would focus more on the destruction of the surface and would have a big crater to fill up all the backdrop. I let Mark Winters choose, and he preferred the birds eye.

I knew he was right about it and settled in for a much harder illustration. The 2 other versions with a low angle and a mass of figures would be so much easier to solve. Drawing figures from a high perspective is just not something I have done a lot. But I decided to think of it as a challenge and started sketching. I also zoomed in a bit in order to be able to do some cool figure portraits.
I Planed the figures out so that the solar is higest and the zombie second down to the goblin and the goat. I really had fun making the figures act differently to the destruction. The zombie hasn't quite figures out yet what happened, the soldier is determined and battle ready, the goblin in a scarred panic and the goat doesn't seem to care much - being goat and all.

I inked the figures in water proof ink, added greytones in acrylic and started painting on top. the way I paint is very simple. I use lots of washes in the beginning, since I have a very tight black and white drawing underneath, as long as i use washes of paint in the being it only teints the drawing and colorise all the greytones. Later I start building light color on top opaquely until i reach  the highlights.

I used a very simplified palette of earth colours in a warm hue. After I submitted the final , Mark suggested that I added a green grass color to the untouched part of the landscape to further clarify the edge of the crater. That correction I did digitally.
This was for me a very fun illustration, because I got to do figures with a fun twist. A dear side track to my usual: Angry monster attacking you-paintings.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Let's Be Real: Do You Know How To Give A Constructive Critique?

...and can you take one as well?

by Vanessa Lemen

Norman Rockwell, Art Critic

In order to give a quality critique – one that's meaningful, helpful, well-informed, constructive – you essentially need one thing: To know what you're talking about.

First things first: an opinion is not the same thing as a critique, it's only a small part of it.  Anyone can give their opinion about a piece of art, and that's just fine, but when we're talking about a critique, it's more about good quality, informed, and meaningful feedback that the person on the receiving end – whether they are a viewer just taking it in, a person learning about the art, or the artists themselves – can use to assess the work as well. Simply stating your opinion is just surface level dialog, and it's just a small part of what a critique is. Having a deeper understanding about how you've come to your conclusion and being able to share it with others is a much more effective and stimulating form of dialog than just simply stating your opinion. Everyone should be able to back their opinion. Like I mentioned before, everyone is entitled to one, sure, but if you're going to put it out there (and even though you don't necessarily have to), you should be able to explain it and discuss it with others as well.

from the film Art School Confidential

In order to provide a good quality critique, there are 4 stages to consider: Description, Analysis, Interpretation, and Judgement/Evaluation. Below are brief descriptions of each stage of the critiquing process to help make the most thorough assessment. These can also help to gain a better understanding of your own work as well, and can be used to evaluate your own personal opinions, knowledge, and evolution and growth in your work, as well as an understanding of others' perspectives and an overall understanding of art. If you don't know how you'd answer some of these, it's your job to give it some thought, and if need be, do your research. Spend time with coming up with an informed answer. And remember: It's important to observe, be objective, and understand.. without losing your sense of wonderment. All of it plays a part.

The Simpsons admire a painting by Picasso


In this stage of the critique, you should keep opinions out, and focus on describing the work in an objective or value-neutral statement. Here are some points to consider in order to assess the work in this stage:

What is the title and who is (are) the artist(s)?
Describe single features in the work (i.e., objects, a person, tree)
Describe the abstract elements of the work (i.e., line movement, light, space, color).
Describe the technical qualities of the work (i.e., medium, materials).
Describe the subject matter. What is it all about? Are there recognizable images?


Using the elements you named in the description, make statements about the relationship of those things. Describe how the work is organized as a complete composition using elements and principles of design and composition. Here are some points to keep in mind when making a formal analysis:

How is the work constructed or planned (i.e., composition of shapes, lines, color)?
Identify some of the similarities throughout the work (i.e., repetition of line or shape).
Identify some of the points of emphasis in the work (i.e., specific scene, figure, story).
If the work has subjects or characters, what are the relationships between or among them?


This is a creative part of your critique in which you would describe how the work makes you think or feel, using your assessment in the previous stages of the critiquing process. Here are some points to help you with discussing your interpretation of the work:

Describe the expressive qualities you find in the work. What expressive language would you use to describe the qualities (i.e., tragic, ugly, funny)? And why would you use those words?
Does the work remind you of other things you have experienced (i.e., analogy or metaphor, something you've read, watched, or personally experienced)?
How does the work relate to other ideas or events in the world and/or in other aspects besides art?

Judgment or Evaluation

This is a complex part of the critique, and requires an assessment of your opinion based on the points of evaluation in the above categories or stages. It's about whether you are moved by the work, what you think of it, what your aesthetic judgement is of the work, and what your judgement is based on.
Here are some questions you can use to help present your opinion of the work's success or shortcomings:

What qualities of the work make you feel it is successful or not-so-successful?
Compare it with similar works that have moved you.
What criteria can you list to help others judge this work?
How original is the work? Why do you feel this work is original or not original? Think of it in terms of pushing the envelope (i.e., is the initial concept unoriginal but the piece is well-executed, or vice versa?)

Norman Rockwell, The Connoisseur

A couple things I'd like to add to this:

Sometimes It's good to work backwards, too, when thinking about a critique. While it's not necessarily backwards, what I mean is.. when you've got a strong gut reaction, go with it.. and then assess it from there. Why do you think you reacted to something the way you did?

Also, there are different scenarios where critiquing comes into play. All of the above is an overall general concept of what a critique might entail. There are instances where a critique is more specific to a topic, such as in a classroom where students are not only undergoing a critique, but also taking part in the critique of others' work. In this environment, it's important to be able to give and take constructive criticism well, and to take into consideration that there may be an assignment or theme to the work, and that this would be a significant element to the critique. Whether the work adheres to the assignment would probably be first and foremost in the evaluation of the work. The same goes for the relationship between an artist and art director, where the artist would most likely be given a set of points to keep in mind when completing the work. The viewing and sharing of the artwork in progress is an essential part of the overall critique in order to assure the work is staying true to the overall vision and that the outcome will hit the mark, and to keep everything moving forward in the most efficient way possible in order to meet a deadline. Being able to give and take constructive criticism is essential to the job. Also, in art history, for example, it's important to take into consideration the time in which the work was produced and what part of the world the artist resided in which will shed light on what was going on at the time in that place (such as art movements and/or war/conflict), as well as what materials and accommodations were available to the artist at that time.

from Simon Schama's The Power of Art, Mark Rothko episode

I hope you can use these stages of critique the next time you form and share an opinion about art or anything else you feel compelled to share your opinion about openly. And don't forget that you can use these points of reference when evaluating your own work as well.

I leave you with this great quote from a wonderful movie, Ratatouille.
In this scene, the antagonist in the film, the food critic Anton Ego, shares a very insightful review...

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Composing (And Referencing) With Creative Lighting

- By David Palumbo

One of the often overlooked tools for building mood in an image is how you choose to light the scene. I think it's just too easy to get caught up in the narrative and default to overhead ¾ lighting. It describes forms, but it doesn't always serve the story. This tends to be a common habit when sketching from imagination (which is where a lot of paintings begin) simply because it's so familiar and easy to visualize. More creative placement of lighting can give a major boost to the drama though, which is why I try to make of point of finding less expected choices whenever possible.

Realism vs. Idealism

One issue that I sometimes run up against is when to follow the laws of physics and when to bend or break them to suit a composition. I'm personally a fan of embracing realism whenever possible in the hope that it gives a piece more authenticity and allows the viewer to really feel the weight of a scene. It's the same sentiment that makes me appreciate in movies when the armor is functional and the guns run out of bullets. But I can also appreciate that sometimes you need to suspend disbelief in service of the story.

Shooting by the light of a single candle is a challenge and will significantly limit the image quality, but there was a good amount of useful info here that would have been very tricky to fake

This is where referencing comes into play for me. My starting point is always to explore the real lighting effects of a scene as best I can and see how it looks. For example, if a figure is holding a candle (as above), I'll try doing my shoot by candle light and see what happens. The results can be surprising though not always workable.  If reality is more interesting that my expectation, fantastic! If it falls short, that's when I'll start sacrificing realism for a more effective image.

Fake Fake Fake!  I wanted to light my figure by the bounce from an in-frame flashlight, but the reality is they don't throw any light backwards and conventional surfaces are not nearly reflective enough to give that effect.  But the feel is what I want here, so fake it.

Some of my favored lighting plans and reference set-ups

In-Frame light sources

Along the lines of the above examples, I find lighting your scene by an object which is in-frame to be a pretty reliable way to turn up the mood. The difficulty here is primarily in balancing the intensity of the light source with the characters and environment in a way that is convincing and does not disturb the design. Composing in this way requires extra care when it comes to the value shapes that make up the picture.  It's easy to confuse focal points when the brightest spot or highest contrast are not the most interesting thing to look at.

To deal with this, there are a few possible strategies. You can have the light source in a light area so that it is relatively low contrast compared with focal points.

Holding a photostrobe for a lantern, but keying it down in the final piece while also punching up the more interesting looking silhouette of the figure.  The color pops on an otherwise monochome piece help as well.  Out of dozens of shots, this one just happened to cast that triangle of light over the one eye, an example of finding an interesting, unplanned detail in the reference and carrying it forward

You can make sure the light source IS the focal point, or adjacent enough to it that they merge.

In my original plan, I didn't know how to make the cast shadow of the vampire read without confusing it with the priest's own shadow.  As soon as my model picked up the light, I saw how I could layer their two shadows together, a solution I'd not likely have come up with without acting the scene out

Or you can “shield” the light from the viewer so that it is in frame but not actually visible.

Quick tip: the versatility of a speedlight for an in-frame lightsource

I've recently found that, due to it's small size, a radio-triggered speedlight (battery powered flash) can do some really amazing things for in-frame set-ups. Conventional lightbulbs and studio strobes are often too hot and too big or awkward to go where a speedlight can.

With a speedlight, a toy gun, some flash attachment bits, and a sheet of paper, you too can make a "flamethrower."  The flash lights up the paper cone taped around it, turning it into a roughly flamespout shaped lightsource on the end of my rifle.  The speedlight was the only light used for this shot.  Yes, I could have faked this by setting up a fixed light about where the flamethrower is pointing, but with this rig I was able to move freely and have the lighting follow whatever position I took.  The paper used as a diffuser gave a very convincing imitation of torchlight

Head-on lighting

My advice on lighting usually begins with “whatever you do, never use the flash built onto the camera.” Camera mounted flashes are so small and so close to the lens that they completely kill shadows, which means they hide the form instead of describing it. The results are flat and unattractive.

That isn't to say, however, that you can't front light your subject for dramatic results. Just ask Phil Hale. The trick is to either put some distance between the light and the lens or make your lightsource large. If you shift the light slightly off to the side or place it closer to the subject (between the subject and camera) you'll introduce just enough shadows to give it form. With a small flash the results can be harsh, but that might be a look you want. The result is similar to observing the scene by flashlight, or possibly reminiscent of old news photographs.

Light positioned left and in front of the lens (you can see it in the lower left corner) so the shadows radiate outward instead of all falling in one direction.  I wanted the scene to feel as though lit by a flashlight held by the viewer

When you scale up the light source but keep it close to the camera (a big softbox or umbrella for example), the result is softer.

Umbrella light positioned just slightly left and above the lens

Back-lit scenes

I suppose this is a sort of in-frame lighting, but the idea is that you are silhouetting your subject in front of a bright environment. The shape of the subject silhouette becomes extremely important, and you can show interior detail with subtle light wrapping around the edges.

If I can actually dress the whole scene, I'll dress the whole scene

A big umbrella and a white wall to bounce makes a good set-up for being surrounded by flames

OK, I just included this one for fun